Guest Essay on Tower of the Hand: Hollow Crowns and Deadly Thrones, Part II


Over on Tower of the Hand, I’ve written the second of my new series of historical/political essays, this time focusing on the monarchy of Westeros (for my five-part series on the Hands of the King, see here). In Part II, I examine how Aegon I not merely conquered Westeros but also what kind of a monarchy he created, and how that monarchy grew and changed during the first 150 years of the Targaryen dynasty, when the kings on the Iron Throne still had dragons to back up their claim to sovereignty.

Check it out! 


21 thoughts on “Guest Essay on Tower of the Hand: Hollow Crowns and Deadly Thrones, Part II

  1. Andrew says:

    Good analysis on Jaehaerys I finding the middle ground between the two extremes of his father and uncle. Queen Alysanne managed to follow Machiavelli’s suggestion of curing the favor of the common people.

    Also, Viserys I also had Rhaenyra marry a Strong of Harrnehal, securing a base of support in the riverlands. Some people may have supported Rhaenyra, given that Aegon II liked to feed people to his dragon, not just his half-sister but the Grand Maester, and dragons always eat their meat cooked. His antics may have given him a reputation that may have worked against him like with Ramsya Bolton.

    Ronnel Arryn wasn’t the Gryphon King, the last griffin king was killed by his forebear, Artys Arryn, the first Arryn King. The Arryn’s sigil is a falcon.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Good stuff, but Artys Arryn was the first Gryphon King – he unseated the Mountain King.

      • Andrew says:

        AFfC Sansa
        “The Winged Knight was Ser Artys Arryn. Legend said that he had driven the First
        Men from the Vale and flown to the top of the Giant’s Lance on a huge falcon to
        slay the Griflin King.”

      • Andrew says:

        The Arryns never referred to themselves as the Griffin Kings, especially since their sigil is a falcon. They would more likely refer to themselves as the Falcon Kings.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Fair enough.

          EDIT: Andrew – I re-read my stuff on House Arryn, and I had overlooked the Falcon Crown; I think I got a bit confused by the fact that the Arryns called themselves King of Mountain and Vale rather than the Falcon Kings.

          Thanks for the correction.

  2. Brett says:

    Great essay. I tried to comment over there, but the “Registration” system is screwed up right now.

    It’s weird that GRRM included Prima Noctis, since he read up on the Middle Ages and presumably knew that it was a myth. Maybe in Westeros, it was just a blanket term for the “right” of Lords to have sex with any subservient woman under their dominion, which seems to be implied by the way Roose Bolton describes it. In that case, Queen Alsyanne’s ban on it was in practice a strengthening of protections for the peasantry, which was hugely popular with them and not so popular with the nobility.

    Balerion was apparently already dead by the time of the Dance of Dragons. I remember GRRM somewhere saying that he died of old age at around 200 years, so dragons apparently do have a life span. That said, I haven’t been able to source that, so take it as you will.

    Agreed on why the Seven Kingdoms were never conquered by the Valyrians. They’re still a relative backwater compared to the Free Cities and Essos civilizations in the present storyline, after three centuries of (mostly) piece and unity. They were probably even more so before unification.

    There also might have been political factors at work. The Narrow Sea is too wide for a dragon to fly without having a place to rest (except possibly on the Stepstones), and the High Lords of Valyria might have been afraid that a westerosi-based Valyrian governate could revolt from control from Valyria itself.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Wait, if Balerion dies of old age at 200 years, shouldn’t he have about 50 years of life at the time of the Dance of the Dragons?

      I don’t think dragon range was an issue, given that Dany rode Drogon from Meereen to the Dothraki Sea, which is at least 200-300 miles and Drogon’s not fully grown yet. Moreover, Aegon rode Balerion from Dragonstone to Volantis, so it’s got to be viable. I think it was just the appeal of closer targets.

      • Brett says:

        Balerion had already been around for a while even before Aegon invaded Westeros.

        You’re right on the dragon-range. Although it does make you wonder why they didn’t go farther to the East, considering how rich Qarth and Yi Ti apparently are. Perhaps the Qartheen Warlocks were more powerful in those days.

        Superstition might be a factor as well. Aenar Targaryen yanked his whole family from Valyria to an isolated trading post on Dragonstone just because his daughter had ominous dreams of doom. Maybe there were some superstitious beliefs about what would happen if they went west of the Narrow Sea.

  3. axrendale says:

    Brilliant essay Steven – one of your best yet. Keep up the good work!

    On the subject of Maegor’s war against the insurgency of the Faith Militant (a part of the Targaryen backstory that I found particularly fascinating when it was first raised in AFFC) – a stray comment that is made by Cersei (admittedly not the most reliable source of historical information) when she encounters the reconstituted Warrior’s Sons in AFFC offers a possible clue as to why the struggle progressed in the way that it did. She remembers that the order of the Warrior’s Sons had a reputation for including dragonslayers among their ranks (in addition to “holy men, ascetics, sorcerers… and demonhunters”). If this reputation is grounded in truth, then it could indicate that the Faith Militant had some initial success in resisting the dragon-based attempts by the Targaryens to supress them, which could offer further clues as to why Maegor eventually sought to outsource the work of crushing the uprising by paying bounties for the scalps of the WSs and PFs.

  4. Andrew says:

    I’d also like to add that the reason Aegon didn’t redistribute land like William the COnqueror is becuase, WIlliam ruled Normandy a large region with plenty of lords while Aegon ruled Dragonstone and a few small islands with a scarcity of lords.

    Harrenhal was given to one of his commanders, Qoherys.

    • stevenattewell says:

      True. On the other hand, there’s a large Valyrian diaspora in the Free Cities who were already turning to Aegon for political and military support that he could have recruited from.

  5. Abbey Battle says:

    It is entirely probable that he did just that prior to The Conquest, but found the pickings thin when he declared his intent to seize the distant, ‘uncivilised’ Sunset Kingdoms rather than some nice, cosy Free City in a civilised part of the world.

    Aegon may have deliberately refused to accept recruits from that part of the World AFTER The Conquest as a way of punishing those who declined to do the heavy work, but flocked like vultures once the fighting was done or may simply .

    In other news, much to my embarrassment I finally discovered today that you CAN comment on this series of articles without registering on Tower of the Hand; with that in mind, please accept my congratulations on putting together another intriguing article on those that forged and those that sat the Iron Throne.

    A couple of thoughts that occurred to me while reading the article:-

    (i) Do you suspect that Daemon Velaryon’s naval attack on Gulltown during The Conquest faltered due to the presence of one of the Targaryen Dragons rather than despite this? (For my money, it’s entirely possible that a flying flamethrower proved just a WEE bit incompatible with the tarred ropes and wooden hulls of a feudal navy with rather devastating consequences for old Daemon).

    (ii) Could Viserys have married into House Hightower not merely because he wanted to keep a loyalist outpost in The Reach, but also because he wanted the High Speton kept under the eyes of Targaryen loyalists?

    • stevenattewell says:

      It’s quite possible:

      1. My interpretation, which is based on very sketchy evidence until we get the World of Ice and Fire book, is that Daemon got trounced before the dragon could come to bear, and then Visenya decided to force a draw.
      2. Possibly.

  6. […] GRRM is being very giving lately, so we’ve got a brand-new excerpt below the cut. So, spoilery analysis below the cut, and here’s hoping the World of Ice and Fire book didn’t totally invalidate my Hollow Crowns essay on Aegon. […]

  7. […] outside of deploying his own personal guards – perhaps due to the Targaryen dynasty’s neglect of institution-building during the period in which royal power rested securely on the backs of dragons. Instead, we have […]

  8. […] change in the last three hundred years – the destruction of the dragons that provided the foundation for the Targaryen monarchy’s power – was caused by the agency of the smallfolk. Moreover, we learn from the World of Ice and Fire […]

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